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Rams

Rams’ potential replacements for Greg Zuerlein have made big kicks, just not in NFL

Austin MacGinnis of the Memphis Express attempts a field goal as Ryan Winslow holds the ball against the San Diego Fleet during an Alliance of American Football game on March 2, 2019 in Memphis.
Austin MacGinnis of the Memphis Express attempts a field goal as Ryan Winslow holds the ball against the San Diego Fleet in an Alliance of American Football game on March 2, 2019 in Memphis.
( Joe Murphy / Getty Images)

Pressure did not bother Lirim Hajrullahu or Austin MacGinnis.

In 2017, with the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup on the line, Hajrullahu calmly kicked a last-minute field goal to give the Toronto Argonauts the championship.

During MacGinnis’ junior season at Kentucky in 2016, he kicked game-winning field goals in the final seconds against Mississippi State and Louisville.

That kind of poise should serve Hajrullahu and MacGinnis well as they compete with Rams draftee Sam Sloman to replace Greg Zuerlein.

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After eight seasons with the Rams, Zuerlein signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. Les Snead, the Rams’ general manager, said last month that the Rams were looking for a kicker with “superpowers” to fill the void left by Zuerlein’s departure.

Zuerlein, nicknamed “Leg-a-Tron,” “Greg the Leg” and “Mr. Automatic,” had 60-yard-plus range. He put the Rams in Super Bowl LIII with a 57-yard field goal in overtime to defeat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game, but last season made just 24 of 33 field-goal attempts.

Lirim Hajrullahu raises the Grey Cup after kicking a last-minute field goal to give the Toronto Argonauts the Canadian Football League championship in 2017.
(Getty Images)

In videoconferences with reporters Wednesday, Hajrullahu and MacGinnis said they welcomed the challenge of a three-man competition that will not be decided until training camp. Hajrullahu and MacGinnis have been participating in the Rams’ virtual offseason program for nearly two weeks. Sloman and other rookies can begin to participate next week.

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Hajrullahu, a six-year CFL veteran, worked out for the Seattle Seahawks in 2019. MacGinnis played in the defunct Alliance of American Football and the XFL. And Sloman played at Miami of Ohio the last four seasons.

So this will be the first time all will go to training camp with a real chance to make an NFL team.

“That puts us all in a similar footing,” MacGinnis said, “and the best man will win.”

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Hajrullahu, 30, was born in Kosovo but as a child moved with his family to Canada in the wake of war. He attended high school and college in Canada and played for three CFL teams, converting kicks from 50 yards or more in each of his pro seasons. In 2019, he made 47 of 55 field-goal attempts for Hamilton, including one from a career-long 56 yards. He also punts.

With the help of a new agent, he said he decided to pursue his NFL dream.

“I’ve done everything that I need to do up here,” Hajrullahu said from outside Toronto, adding, “I’ve had professional experience, I’ve played in big games and I believe I can compete with the best of them.”

MacGinnis, 25, played for Memphis in the AAF in 2018. This spring, he made 10 of 10 field-goal attempts for the Dallas Renegades before the XFL shut down operations.

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“Those spring leagues are good because you don’t really have a developmental league in football,” MacGinnis said from Lexington, Ky., adding, “I kind of thought I would sign somewhere, I just didn’t know where.”

The Rams signed Hajrullahu and MacGinnis on April 13. Less than two weeks later, they selected Sloman in the seventh round of the draft.

Rams’ top draft pick, Cam Akers, says he has ‘big boy pants on’ and can handle all the roles of a running back in the NFL.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to come in and compete for a wide-open job,” Sloman said the day he was drafted.

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Rams coach Sean McVay and new special teams coordinator John Bonamego will begin to evaluate the kickers when NFL facilities re-open in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The league has mandated that no on-field activity is allowed until all teams receive clearance to do so.

That might mean the kickers will not compete until before the season.

“Just be as ready as possible come training camp,” Hajrullahu said.


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